January 22, 2011 9:24:00 PM
Over the last several years there has been much industrial development both built and planned around the Golden Triangle Regional Airport. However, people do not realize the long and fascinating history of that land. Historic sites in the area were surveyed and mapped by archaeologists from the Department of Archives and History in the late 1970s.
Artifacts found in the area indicate that people had lived and hunted there for about 10,000 years. The oldest artifacts are chert projectile points (commonly called arrowheads though actually small spear points) which are a style known as Dalton. That type of point was in use 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Not until about 200 years ago can we identify the actual people who lived around what is now the airport. By 1813 a Choctaw by the name of Yokatubbee was living just west of the present runway. During the Creek Indian War of 1813-1814 his house served as a refuge for women and children from John Pitchlynn''s fort (which became known as Fort Smith) when it was threatened with attack by a Creek war party.
During the late 1820s Peter Pitchlynn built a house just south of Artesia and the open prairie that ran from there to the present north west corner of the airport became known as Peter Pitchlynn''s Prairie. Peter was the son of John Pitchlynn and later became chief of the Choctaw Nation in Okolahoma.
In 1830 two Choctaws, Yo ka tubbee and Ho ta na, had houses in the prairie west of the airport. Yo ka tubbee and the nine members of his family were farming seven acres. Ho ta na and the six members of his family were farming six acres. There was also a cornfield of about 20 acres near both of their farmsteads. Middleton MacKey, a U.S. Interpreter for the Choctaws owned property just south east of the airport.
Ho ta na and Yo ka tubbee removed to the Indian Territory in the west, now Oklahoma, in the mid 1830s. Yo ka tubbee sold his farmstead to Henry Gibson. Gibson was John Pitchlynn''s son in law and the Mississippi agent and correspondent for the New Yorker which was then a newspaper.
By the early 1850s, T.C. Billups had purchased several thousand acres around and including what is now the airport. His home which was on the east side of present day Airport Road was known as Billups Gate. The rail line from Artesia to Columbus was built in 1861. In 1865 Billups, a strong supporter of education, established a school on the farm for the newly freed slaves. Later a church was built at what is now the north end of the airport runway.
In the 1920s, Billups Station on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad was a major hay shipping point and the location of a cheese plant. That plant which only operated a few years was the first industrial development at what has now become a major industrial park..
When viewing all of the development around the airport, few people realize the story the land could tell.
Rufus Ward is a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to him at [email protected]